Thursday, January 17, 2008

Headphone Hideaway

The following was written yesterday during my office hours. I didn’t quite have time to post it before I had to leave for a class. When I went outside, it was snowing. I decided to post a blog about that yesterday, so now I’m presenting this one today. Not that any of that matters…

This semester, I am trying something new. I am keeping a pair of headphones in my backpack, so that whenever I’m in the philosophy department computer lab—primarily during my office hours—I can plug into a PC and listen to whatever CDs I have on hand or, more often, Yahoo! Music. It’s only the second week of the semester, but I’ve really enjoyed doing this. In semesters past, office hours seemed to drag on. The quiet of the computer lab was almost distracting to me. But now, with a pair of headphones incessantly expectorating tunes into my auditory canals, office hours have gone from taxing to relaxing. I’ve been surprised at just how quickly the office hours have passed. Granted this is only the second week, but the difference has been amazing. Hence, the following ode to headphones.

Headphones don’t just prevent others from listening to (or, more accurately, having to listen to) whatever you’re listening to, they block out almost anything other than your immediate sensory experience and whatever accompanying mental narration you care to provide (which needn’t be much). It’s a very freeing feeling. Mental moseying becomes unimpeded. The general public, which so often stomps through your mind whether you want it to or not, is suddenly denied entry.* At the very least, anyone wanting access must first stop and knock, and it is you who ultimately decides whether or not to unlock the door and let them in. You’ve closed up shop. Visiting hours are over. You’re alone. Don’t believe it? Think of how strikingly less alone you feel when you’re behind the closed door of a public restroom stall, completely out of view, with just one stranger standing outside your door at the wash basin, versus being on a crowded train, smashed up against several people you’ve never even made eye contact with, but with a pair of headphones on. That’s what I thought.

Headphones place a transparent, polyphonic pane between you and other people. Even if someone manages to catch your eye, there is little they can do other than wave at you through an invisible weave of quarter notes and minor seventh chords. This is the magic of headphones. True, they have other benefits, benefits more strictly connected with the experience of the music itself. (Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” is an entirely different song when listened to through headphones; I also have fond memories of the first time I heard Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun,” in a tent, in the dark, on headphones—but not on acid, for the record. Still, a very surreal experience. There are certainly other headphone moments worth mentioning, but my point has been made.) It’s been so long since I’ve listened to music through headphones that I had forgotten how pleasant and refreshing an experience it can be. Up until this past week, I’ve never cared that I’ve yet to join the iPod revolution. Now I’m starting to rethink things. It’s only 9½ months until my birthday – take note.

*The general belief is that minds are private, but who are we kidding? Even if much of our mind remains off-limits to the masses, anyone can access the lobby. Indeed, insofar as human beings come into contact with each other at all, we necessarily pass through the lobbies of each other’s minds. We get annoyed at the person on the bus who talks too loudly on their cell phone because, as far as we’re concerned, they’re blathering at a volume inappropriate for the classiness we try to maintain in our own mental establishment. It’s like someone waltzing through a 5-star hotel lobby in cut-off shorts and a wifebeater. But such is life. Everybody crosses through everybody else’s lobby. Sometimes you hardly take notice of it, and sometimes they don’t even notice it. Other times, someone genuinely seems to appreciate the décor, and we’re flattered by it. Sometimes people are just downright ignorant of the dirt and muck they leave behind as they tromp through, oblivious that they have even come into your building. For them, you’re simply another room to pass through on the way to their final destination. They don’t care how nice your lobby is or how much they scuff the floor. Is it any wonder we sometimes need to lock the doors and do some mental polishing?


  1. I really love your descriptions, nice work. As for the headphones, I got an Ipod almost two years ago and I love it. I use it almost everyday and yes it is freeing to use headphones.

  2. Wow! If I didn't know you were a philosopher before, I sure do now. What ponderings! I love all your descriptions of the human mind. It's so true. I'm not sure if I should feel violated? thinking of all those people in MY lobby! But I do think that's why I've always been a "shy" person. I don't want just anyone trapsing through and commenting on my decor!

  3. It must be doing you a LOT of good. Your writing is much improved, or shall we say like your old marvelous self. I love your imagery. Headphones kind of freaked me out..until the sound is all INSIDE your head, but you have painted a different picture that makes it all seem very ethereal and desireable.

  4. I love you.
    That said that's how I've always felt-mind if I post it in a couple places? Full credit will be given of course.